Introducing the Leaders for Tomorrow’s Institutions

By: Patrick B. Reyes
April 20, 2017

What sets this class apart is they are setting a research agenda and showing institutional leadership even at this stage in their doctoral journey. This class of Fellows has placed at the center of the theological enterprise work in the church as pastor/scholars, advocacy for women and human rights as activist scholars and have all demonstrated a clear commitment to their communities.

In 1968, Executive Director of the Fund for Theological Education (FTE), C. Shelby Rooks looked at the landscape of theological education. There were only 18 African American Ph.D. students in religion in the US and only 40 African American professors held Ph.D.s in the field. Building on the legacy of the Rockefeller Brothers Doctoral Fellowship, FTE began awarding the Special Opportunity for Doctoral Study of Religion for African Americans. In 1976, while looking at similar data for the Latinx community, FTE began offering the Special Opportunity for Doctoral Study of Religion for Hispanic Americans.

Today, broadening the scope to all Association of Theological Schools in the US and Canada, representation is still lacking in Ph.D. and Th.D. programs.

In 2015, there were only 284 Asian-Pacific Island doctoral students, 199 African American doctoral students, 155 Hispanic/Latinx students and 21 Native American doctoral students. All in contrast to 2,251 white doctoral students.

This demographic make-up shapes the future of theological education. It projects who the future leaders, innovators and change-makers will be in theological education. While seminaries are seeing a growth in enrollment of students of color, those who will teach them, lead their institutions, build the classrooms, set the learning agendas and design the necessary innovations for the field will still be overwhelmingly from backgrounds that do not reflect this growing diversity. It is not simply about a lack of numerical and representational diversity. It is about ensuring that equity and inclusion in the types of experiences, guiding research questions, needs, commitments and values that come from our communities are central to theological education.

FTE’s prestigious doctoral fellowships for students of African, Latino/a, Asian-Pacific Island and First Nations descent represent a critical intervention and recognition of those who will shape the future of theological education. After an 11% annual increase in applications, FTE’s selected Fellows represent individual commitments to communities of color and a collective trend toward an inclusive theological imagination. This inclusive imagination claims, redefines and positions the embodied concerns and commitments of communities of color.

Our Fellows are not just meeting and exceeding the standards of excellence set by the academy, but redefining those standards.

The majority of our Fellows are women. Nearly 75% of those selected came from University or theological institutions embedded within a larger University system. Our Fellows are providing state of the art research in theology, practical theology, Christian ethics, African American religions, church history, biblical studies and a variety of cognate fields.

What sets this class apart is they are setting a research agenda and showing institutional leadership even at this stage in their doctoral journey. This class of Fellows has placed at the center of the theological enterprise work in the church as pastor/scholars, advocacy for women and human rights as activist scholars and have all demonstrated a clear commitment to their communities.

Tomorrow’s religious scholars and leaders of theological institutions represented in this class of Fellows will shape and chart a new standard of excellence for scholars in theological education for years to come. Their scholarship and leadership is sorely needed if we, as a field, are going to take serious the changes in the church and the academy. We look forward to walking alongside them in their longer vocational journey.

Tags: Diverse Solutions, Thinking Out Loud, Shaping the Future


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